David Behrman has been active as a composer and electronic artist since the Sixties and has created many works for performance as well as sound installations. Most of his work since the late Seventies has involved computer-controlled music systems, operating interactively with people who may or may not be musically expert. He designs and writes much of the software for these systems.
My Dear Siegfried, Unforeseen Events, Refractive Light and Quick Silver are among Behrman's recent works for soloists and small ensembles which have been performed by musicians skilled at inventive performance. Among them recently have been Thomas Buckner, Leroy Jenkins, Barbara Held, "Blue" Gene Tyranny, Jon Gibson, Ralph Samuelson, Peter Zummo, Jon Gibson, Ben Neill and Kazue Sawai. Behrman performances have been presented during the past three years by the CBC in Toronto, Frizitaliana in Turin, Steim in Amsterdam, Metronom in Barcelona, the New Music Circle in St. Louis, Apollohuis in Eindhoven, Logos in Ghent and Roulette in New York.
Behrman's sound installations have been exhibited at various institutions, including the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, The Hudson River Museum, The New York Hall of Science, the DeCordova Museum, The Addison Gallery of American Art, Ars Electronica in Linz and La Villette Science and Technology Museum in Paris. Among the installations are Cloud Music (a collaboration with Robert Watts and Bob Diamond), A Map of the Known World and Algorithme et Kalimba (collaborations with George Lewis) and In Thin Air.
Recordings of his works - Leapday Night, On the Other Ocean, Interspecies Smalltalk, Figure in a Clearing, Navigation and Astronomy, Unforeseen Events and others - are published as LPs and CDs by Lovely Records, XI, New Tone and Classic Masters.
Together with Robert Ashley, Alvin Lucier and Gordon Mumma, Behrman founded the Sonic Arts Union in 1966. Sonic Arts performed extensively in North America and Europe from 1966 until 1976. Working at Columbia Records in the late Sixties, he produced the "Music of Our Time" series of new music recordings for Columbia Masterworks, which presented works by Cage, Oliveros, Lucier, Reich, Riley, Pousseur and other influential composers. Behrman toured as composer/performer with the Cunningham Dance Company from 1970 through 1976. During that period he assisted John Cage with several projects. Merce Cunningham commissioned him to compose music for Company repertory pieces in 1968, 1976 and 1984.
Behrman was co-director of the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College in 1975-1980. He also taught at Ohio State University, New Music in New Hampshire, Rutgers University and California Institute of the Arts. In the early Eighties he designed educational music software as a consultant for Childrens' Television Workshop. He lived in Tokyo and Berlin in 1987-1989 under grants from the Japan-United States Friendship Commission and the D.A.A.D. He received grants from the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts in 1995 and from NYFA in 1996.
"On the Other Ocean" is an improvisation by Maggi Payne and Arthur Stidfole centered around six pitches which, when they are played, activate electronic pitch-sensing circuits connected to the "interrupt" line and input ports of a microcomputer, Kim-1. The microcomputer can sense the order and timing in which the six pitches are played and can react by sending harmony-changing messages to two handmade music synthesizers. The relationship between the two musicians and the computer is an interactive one, with the computer changing the electronically-produced harmonies in response to what the musicians play, and the musicians influenced in their improvising by what the computer does. The recording is of a live performance.
September 1977: We were almost young and living in California where the sun was usually shining, the Vietnam War had ended, the scourges of the Eighties were undreamed of, and a new device called the "microcomputer" was in the hands of some extremely intelligent graduate students at Mills College's Center for Contemporary Music. The students were trying to figure out whether this new device might contribute something interesting to music, and I was studying with them (although the college catalog claimed that I was their teacher).
Hearing "On the Other Ocean" now, nineteen years later, I'm astonished about how unflappably unhurried we were. Nobody and no institution was going to make us hurry our music along. We loved pure tones and we were going to listen to them for a long time, no matter what.
Various enthusiasms contributed to the making of "On the Other Ocean:" for pure tunings and simple ratios; for home-made electronics with its mysterious knobs, its lexan enclosures with the screw-holes drilled not quite in the right places and its hand-wired circuit boards inside; for idiosyncratic brews of electronic timbres that were not trying to imitate the sounds of the real world. And for a concept which was fresh at the time but has now become almost obnoxious through overuse: interactivity.
When we went into the Mills recording studio that sunny September afternoon with the breeze blowing through the Golden Gate, we had had no previous rehearsal; Maggi Payne and Arthur Stidfole had never performed together; the simple software (typed laboriously by hand in machine language into the tiny hexadecimal keypad of the "Kim 1" microcomputer) had just been completed. I had no idea what would happen. When Maggi and Arthur began spinning off their long, calm phrases I remember being surprised. And I remember catching an expression of what looked like surprise on the countenance of "Blue" Gene Tyranny through the control room window. We did two takes, chose one and that was it.
"Figure in a Clearing," made a few months before "On the Other Ocean," was the first piece of mine to use a computer for music.
With help from Jim Horton and Paul DeMarinis, I had succeeded in getting the "Kim-1" (a 1-pound, two hundred dollar precursor of the Apple II) to send commands to a home-made music synthesizer built a couple of years earlier. For "Figure," the Kim-1 ran a program which varied the time intervals between chord changes. The time intervals were modelled on the motion of a satellite in falling elliptical orbit about a planet.
It seemed astounding in 1977 that a translucent green circuit board with a tiny brain on it could take a million instructions per second from its little memory and send commands to another device (the home-made music synthesizer) whenever its program asked it to do so.
David Gibson's only "score" was a list of 6 pitches to be used in performance, and a request that he not speed up when the computer-controlled rhythm did. The timbral richness and concentrated eloquence of his playing sprang from his own sources. (lovely)